A lot has happened in Kimora Lee Simmons’ world in the past five years. In August 2010 she departed from Kellwood Co.’s Phat Fashions, where she was president and creative director. She married and split from actor Djimon Hounsou, with whom she has a five-year-old son, Kenzo. In 2011, she became president and creative director of JustFab, the membership-based e-commerce site which was recently given a $1 billion valuation. She married Tim Leissner, a banker at Goldman Sachs, this past February. The couple is expecting their first child in April. Today, Simmons is launching KLS Kimora Lee Simmons, her collection of clean, tailored and taut designer ready-to-wear that reflects a new phase of her life.
“It’s different for me. It’s, like, grown up,” says Simmons, referring to her new collection and to the campaign images on the table in her office in the Flatiron District in Manhattan. David Sims shot the photos of her modeling the collection in August. She looks stunning in an unexpected way: pared down, hair undone, no makeup and unretouched, she says. “When people look at this they say, ‘Oh, this is Kimora when she was 12 or 13 at Chanel,’” she says, referring to her teenage modeling days, when she was famously plucked from Missouri and put on the Paris runways. “I didn’t have on makeup when I was at Givenchy and Saint Laurent. I worked with the greatest people in the business and this is more back to that person.”
Simmons is walking around her studio, literally barefoot and pregnant with her fourth child at 39, wearing the chic urban mother’s uniform of leather leggings and a turtleneck. Behind her mood board is her stylist, Karl Templer, who had put together the Valentino Sala Bianca Haute Couture show the night before. KLS’ first 30-look collection will be presented in a Chelsea gallery space this morning.
“There’s a subtlety to the sexiness. It’s not overt,” says Simmons of a sharp tailored coat slit into panels on the front. There’s jacquard suiting and thick jersey dresses with clean graphic lines that tastefully show off a woman’s curves with a little edge. Everything is produced in New York and looks like designer-level quality. Prices range from $500 for a top to $2,400 for a coat. If the silhouettes aren’t revolutionary, they represent a major evolution for Simmons, who is clearly taking a page from the Victoria Beckham — and Diane von Furstenberg before her — re-branding playbook.
What happened to the outrageous glamazon who was married to Russell Simmons and drove her young family through the annals of reality TV via “Kimora: Life in the Fab Lane,” her show that aired on the Style Network from 2007 to 2011?
“I guess you would call it putting out a new image, but I think it’s more of an evolution,” she says. “I’m not the same woman now. KLS isn’t catering to a teenage audience or a young party girl. I’m a serious businesswoman.” Indeed, Simmons’ new venture is financed via her company KLS Holdings, through which she has investments in several other startups, including beauty and tech. She is not interested in the licensing model through which Baby Phat and her various other brands, such as Kouture by Kimora, operated.
“I have shifted away from that,” she says. “I’ve had several brands. You sell them, they’re acquired and you may maintain some control, in the sense that for Baby Phat I stayed on for a very long time as an officer of the company. But visions do change.”
She wants to keep KLS small, slow and steady, even launching with her own retail store, currently under construction in Beverly Hills, rather than wholesale. The store will open this spring.
“It’s not as flashy. It’s not loud,” says Simmons of her new collection versus her old. “I can do that. I sold out Radio City Music Hall [for Baby Phat fashion shows]. I projected things in Times Square. Now, everyone does that; I was the first one. So in that sense, this is a great departure.”
Simmons might be more toned down, but she hasn’t lost her sparkle. Her eldest daughter, Ming, now 14, wanders over, prompting the discussion of reality TV, which Simmons says she has no interest in pursuing, at least in the short term. “Things are different now,” she says of the reality TV world. “I feel like I got [my kids] out just in time, otherwise they would be running around. What 13-year-old needs to have their own TV show — Rich Kids of whatever? I don’t think so.
“She was at Goldman Sachs earlier,” says Simmons of Ming. “She said hello to Lloyd Blankfein. She wants to be a banker.”